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long lines
Long lines began forming early at polling stations across the nation. (Photo: Karamo John)

ST. VINCENT: – Vincentians have begun voting in general elections to elect a new government to manage the affairs of the country  for the next five years.

Early voters were fanned by a gentle breeze as they began queuing up as shortly after 6 a.m. in a sunny St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

Long lines had formed in some constituencies by the time polling station opened at 7 a.m., when the earliest of the 101,053 registered electors cast their ballots.

Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb said the Electoral Office expects a “reasonably high turnout” for the elections, which come three months ahead of the March 2011 constitutional deadline, and has brushed aside reports of voter irregularities.

Police in Kingstown have reminded citizens to observe the electoral laws including those prohibiting the sale and supply of alcoholic beverage and the display of campaign paraphernalia.

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Chief of Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAS) observer mission Frank Almaguer Grinder told the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) that he did not anticipate any problems as Vincentians vote.

His deputy, Steve Grinder, also told the NBC that their role in SVG is limited to monitoring the electoral process and the recount tomorrow.

“If someone came to us with a problem, we are in contact with the Returning Officer, the electoral authorities and we will ask them about it. We don’t have jurisdiction, we are not going to be a judge or a jury in those disputes, but certainly, we will ask them if the party concerned lodges a complaint. If there is a problem at a specific polling site we will make sure that our observer went there as quickly as he could,” he said.

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Schools are closed since some of the nations educational institutions are among the 226 polling stations,

The incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have both fielded candidates to contest in all of the 15 constituencies.

The Green Party, which has nominated 13 candidates but is not expected to affect the outcome of the vote.

Pundits say that the race is too close to call and many Vincentians have dismissed polls as either unscientific or politically biased.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of the ULP and Arnhim Eustace of the main opposition NDP both addressed the nation by radio and television during the closing hours of the campaign Sunday night.

Each said his party was better equipped to manage the affairs of the country over the next five years.

“When you go to the polls, ask yourself this: do you want to keep progressing with the Unity Labour Party or do you want to turn back and embrace the failed NDP policies of the past,” Gonsalves said.

“The NDP will be your government. The ULP asked you to own the campaign. They are missing the point. You the people must know that you own your government,” Eustace said.

The ULP has campaigned on its achievement in the hope that voters will return it to office for an history third consecutive term for a labour government.

The NDP, which governed for the 17 years before 2001, is hoping to retake the reins of power after almost ten years in opposition.

It has said that the ULP mismanaged the affairs of the country, especially the economy, and has pitched Eustace as the man for the top job.

Both parties have told voters that it is more capable to respond to the challenging confronting the multi-island nation of 106,000 citizens.

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The elections come one year after the government failed to secure a majority vote to make changes to the nation’s Constitution in a referendum last year Nov.

Political observers say the referendum was a vote on the stewardship of Gonsalves and his team.

Gonsalves has since shed eight members of his previous administration including his deputy and Foreign Affairs Minister, Sir Louis Straker, and his ministers of health, tourism, and culture.

He says his slate of candidates is a “dream team” that combines a blend of eight “fresh faces” and “the magnificent seven political veterans”.

But historian and social commentator Dr Adrian Fraser says the ULP has a “group of untested recruits” and the NDP “has a group that has been untested in terms of political office”.

The vote comes at the end of an extended campaign, which began in the lead up to the referendum vote last year Nov. but commenced officially with the announcement of the elections one month ago.

The electioneering was marred by reports of violence, accusations of election fraud and interference by non-Vincentian elements, and several threats of law suits.

Polling station will close at 5 pm and the first results from individual polling stations are expected as early as two hours later.  The outcome of the elections is expected to be known by midnight.

The NDP yesterday held a press conference and criticized ULP for a note posted on its website, which says the NDP is “going to do everything in their power” to undermine democracy and try to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote.

The NDP also said that Gonsalves had threatened regional lawyers for the NDP when he said they could face deportation if they work in the country, having entered as visitors.

The elections are also being observed by the teams from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, in addition to the local National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism.